Serving Up 5 Distinctions: How Pickleball is Different Than Tennis

Knowing some of the most basic rules of pickleball and tennis will tell you that they are similar. However, there are a few key differences between the two sports that set them completely apart from each other. 

Pickleball is different from tennis because of the equipment players use and how they set up the court. Pickleball also has a completely different set of rules than tennis, compensating for the different equipment and game styles. 

Let’s break down these differences and a few others, in a little more detail. 

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03/10/2024 07:36 pm GMT

What Are the Key Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis?

The key differences between pickleball and tennis include the racquets vs paddles, the no-volley zone area, the net height, serving, and the type of ball that players use. It is easy to assume these sports are similar but upon further review, they are very different. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these differences.

Racquets vs Paddles

The first big difference between tennis and pickleball is the racquet style. Tennis players use a string racquet, while pickleball players use a solid paddle. Strong racquets allow for more customization because manufacturers easily control the amount of tension for string racquets by using different string types and making them more or less tight. 

Pickleball players use solid paddles similar to ping-pong paddles. These paddles tend to be smaller and weigh less than tennis racquets. Pickleball racquets tend to be easier to handle for players because the weight distributes more toward the handle. This allows players to have more control over the paddle compared to a tennis racquet. 


Pickleballs vs Tennis Balls

Another major difference between these sports is the balls that players use. Tennis balls are rubber balls that have a felt covering. Tennis balls tend to be larger than pickleballs and weigh more because of the materials and air inside the ball. 

Pickleballs are similar to Wiffle balls. They have holes in them that allow air to pass through, which limits how far or fast they travel. This slows down the game of pickleball compared to tennis. Pickleballs also do not bounce as easily as tennis balls. So, players have to play the ball pretty quickly off of a bounce compared to tennis. 

Pickleball Nets and Tennis Nets

The nets for tennis and pickleball may look similar, but they are quite different in size. In tennis, you can expect a net that is 42 feet (12.8 m) long for a doubles match and 33 feet (10.06 m) long for singles. Tennis nets are also 42 inches (106.68 cm) high at each post and 36 inches (91.44 cm) high at the center. 

A pickleball net is traditionally 21 feet and nine inches (6.63 m) long, making the overall court for pickleball smaller. It is also not as tall as a tennis net, measuring 36 inches (91.44 cm) high at the posts and 34 inches (86.36 cm) high at the center. There is not as much slack in a pickleball net compared to tennis. 

For a complete breakdown of how a pickleball court differs from a tennis court, click here.

Serving in Pickleball versus Serving in Tennis

Serving is also different between tennis and pickleball. In tennis, players can serve underhand or overhead depending on their preference, although overhead serving is more common. Pickleball players are only able to serve underhand. 

The way teams choose who serves is also slightly different. While both sports rotate the player that serves, tennis players alternate for every serve. This is a little different than pickleball, as servers can keep serving for as long as they maintain control of the ball. Once the opponent serves and the ball comes back to their team, then the servers switch. 

The No-Volley Zone Line and Kitchen Area

The no-volley zone represents one of the biggest differences in rules when comparing tennis to pickleball. The no-volley zone is featured only in pickleball, and it is the seven feet (2.13 m) of space between the net and the first line on the court. Some players also call it the kitchen. 

The rules for this pickleball-specific zone prohibit players from performing a volley in this specific area. A volley in pickleball, for reference, is when a player hits the ball directly out of the air rather than waiting for it to bounce before hitting it. The rules do not allow players to perform a volley in the no-volley zone. 

In fact, pickleball rules do not allow players to cross the line into the no-volley zone at all if they are volleying the ball. This includes your feet, clothing, and even your arm or racquet during a follow-through. So, players must wait for the ball to hit the ground before returning it or ensure that they and the ball are completely out of the no-volley zone to avoid a fault. 


The Differences in Pickleball Strategy vs Tennis Strategy

Comparing pickleball strategies to tennis strategies is fun because the two are vastly different. Sure, each sport has some similarities like using power from baseline to baseline but the fundamental goal for pickleball strategy is drastically different than in tennis.

Here’s how.

In pickleball, the goal is to get to the net and play a consistent finesse game where touch and accuracy dominate the game.

In tennis, the goal is to use power from one baseline to the other baseline with topspin forehands or backhands. Tennis strategy allows you to play at the net and put away points but most points in tennis are won away from the net whereas in pickleball, most points are won and lost at the net.

It’s worth noting that singles pickleball strategy has more in common with singles tennis strategy because there are more points won behind the kitchen line in singles pickleball compared to doubles pickleball. But, when you compare doubles pickleball (which is the most common) to singles tennis, the strategies are vastly different.

Editor’s Note: Click the link for a comprehensive breakdown of simple pickleball strategies designed for any skill level.

Is Pickleball Easier or More Fun Than Tennis?

Overall, pickleball is easier than tennis because it requires less movement and is less physically demanding. You play pickleball on a smaller court, so there is less movement during a game, but it still requires skill to play the game well. 

Pickleball is definitely easier than tennis when it comes to the need for physicality. Pickleball requires less movement and cardio since you are using a smaller portion of a court than tennis. Generally, because there is less physicality in pickleball, there is also less chance of an injury. So, this may make it easier on the body. 

The strength needed to play is one part of pickleball that can be more challenging than tennis. Because pickleball uses Wiffle balls, you must apply greater strength to cover any distance. So, pickleball may require just as much or even more strength than tennis due to the ball. 

When it comes to the rules, the no-volley zone adds a lot of difficulty to pickleball compared to tennis. When playing tennis, the main goal is to ensure that you return the ball and keep it in bounds. But the no-volley zone in pickleball creates a need to carefully judge the distance to ensure that you don’t cross into it accidentally during a volley. 

Why Are Tennis Players Switching to Pickleball?

As the appeal and popularity of pickleball continue to skyrocket, a notable shift is happening in the world of racquet/paddle sports. Tennis players have been switching their racquets for paddles and embracing the pace of pickleball over tennis. But why is this happening?

Many have speculated but as a pickleball player and a tennis player, here are my thoughts.

First off, the smaller court makes it more appealing for an older population looking to stay in shape (check out my pickleball calories calculator). The size of the court matters and pickleball’s smaller court is less intimidating than a tennis court. Also, the game is still fast-paced but doesn’t require massive amounts of running from one end to the other. This is ideal for an older crowd looking to stay active.

Secondly, the social aspect of the game has attracted younger players, especially millennials. This social, inclusive aspect of pickleball has been ingrained into the sport’s DNA from day one and allows for a group of players who hardly know each other to meet and mix with one another for hours at a time. You simply don’t see this in tennis.

Tennis is more exclusive. You play with who you came to the courts with. But in pickleball, you can show up, meet new people and have fun!

Lastly, the learning curve to pickleball and its rules are much more appealing to any age group. In fact, it’s this unique aspect of pickleball and how it is played that allows an older 60-year-old player to play and compete with a 30-year-old player with no issues.

The game’s rules are built so that anyone can play, have fun, and compete regardless of age. Hell, my 13-year-old son plays with me and my group of players who range from 40 to 50, and even 60 years old. You just don’t get that in tennis.

Pickleball’s unique set of rules, like that two-bounce rule and the no-volley zone are fundamental reasons why the game inherently evens the playing field and allows for diverse skill levels and ages to all play with one another. This is why the game has grown from 5,000 players in 2000 to 8.9 million in 2023.

Tennis can’t touch that. And more tennis courts are being converted to pickleball courts every day because of it.

Check out my complete timeline on when pickleball’s rise in popularity and how it happened.


Does Pickleball Have More Injuries Than Tennis?

Are there more injuries in pickleball than in tennis? Unfortunately yes. A lot more in fact. Because of the sheer number of new players coming to pickleball every year, the number of injuries has skyrocketed.

The data is staggering. The number of emergency room visits and surgeries has jumped significantly over the last few years and some estimates expect the number to climb to 67,000 ER visits and over 9,000 surgeries in 2023 to 2024.

The healthcare cost of pickleball-related injuries is expected to reach $500 million dollars over the next year. So, we’ve got a real problem on our hands.

But is pickleball inherently more dangerous than tennis? In my opinion, no. These numbers are so large because of the sheer number of players pickleball is attracting every year.

Pickleball may not require as much running as tennis but the quick back and forth, forward and back movement found in competitive pickeball can do a number on knees, ankles, and backs. So proper stretching is crucial to avoid injury.

How is Pickleball Different Than Tennis – My Final Thoughts

Pickleball may take certain elements from tennis, but overall they are very different sports. The equipment, the court, the rules, and even the physical fitness level players need to meet are all completely different. So, consider each of these factors before deciding which sport to try. 

Additional FAQs to Consider:

Can You Play Pickleball on a Tennis Court?

Yes, you can absolutely play pickleball on a tennis court as long as the tennis court has pickleball lines laid down within the inside of the tennis court lines. Many tennis courts in local parks or community centers have pickleball lines already laid down on their tennis courts. If not, adding them with chalk is relatively easy as well.

Is Pickleball Harder on Your Knees Than Tennis?

Despite being less physically demanding in some aspects than tennis, the repeated play of pickleball can put a strain on the knees due to quick lateral movements and sudden stops. According to a 2019 survey in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 54% of pickleball players reported injuries, with the knee being the third most common spot. Frequent players may notice increased knee wear, thus proper precautions are recommended.

Why is Pickleball More Popular Than Tennis?

Did you know pickleball has grown by 650% in the last six years? There are now over 3 million players in the U.S. alone, compared to tennis’s 17.9% decline since 2000. Its growing popularity can be attributed to a welcoming and inclusive “community-like feel”, an easier learning curve, and rules that allow for players to compete regardless of age.

Which Sport is Harder Pickleball or Tennis?

As someone who has played pickleball for over 7 years and played high school tennis, I feel tennis presents a bigger challenge due to its faster-paced gameplay that is centered around agility and power. Tennis relies heavily on sheer power on various shots like serves, and return of serves. It also demands rapid, full-court side-to-side movements.

Pickleball on the other hand emphasizes finesse, accuracy, and touch. It’s easier to get good at pickleball because it rewards improvement on “skill” based attributes like soft drop shots. Tennis rewards overpowering your opponent. Simply put, the blend of power and precision needed in tennis makes it a tougher game.

Why do People Like Pickleball More Than Tennis?

People like pickleball more than tennis because of its inviting community, and inclusivity which draws players of all ages with rules ensuring even competition. Often described as addictive, the game’s unique mix of tennis-like volleys, ping-pong precision, and chess-level strategy traps players in continuous rounds of exciting, social fun. It’s a sport that delivers challenge, camaraderie, and an infectious love for the game. Tennis simply doesn’t have this type of culture.



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